Suspect in death of Principal Brian Betts to plead guilty to accessory to murder

Police made an arrest Monday in connection with the April 15 slaying of Brian Betts, a principal at D.C.'s Shaw Middle School. Betts's death has drawn an outpouring across the D.C. area.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 27, 2010; 2:44 PM

The third of four suspects originally charged in the slaying of Principal Brian K. Betts has reached a plea agreement, bringing prosecution of the high-profile murder case closer to a finish.

Joel Johnson, 19, who originally was charged with murder, intends to plead guilty to a lesser charge of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, according to Montgomery County Circuit Court records. Johnson is due in court in the matter Tuesday, according to court records.

Betts, well known for his work with students and a leading face of education reform, was found shot in his home in April.

As detectives built their case, they learned that Alante Saunders had called a sex chat line, linked up with Betts and set up a meeting for the purpose of robbing him, according to authorities. He arrived at Betts's house in Silver Spring with three others, according to prosecutors. He went into the house, went upstairs and shot Betts. His attorney said the gun went off by accident.

Saunders, 19, pleaded guilty to murder and recently was sentenced to 40 years. An accomplice, Sharif Lancaster, 19, pleaded guilty to robbery and a handgun charge. He faces up to 35 years in prison and is set to be sentenced in February. Police had fingerprint evidence against both Lancaster and Saunders.

The evidence against Johnson did not appear as strong. Prosecutors said he went to the house, and he was also linked to the case via the use of Betts's stolen credit cards. Transactions were made soon after Betts was killed, according to authorities.

The case against the fourth defendant, Deontra Gray, also 19, has yet to be resolved. His attorney, Barbara Graham, said there is no evidence Gray ever went inside the house.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company